On Feb. 18 the New York Times published an editorial denouncing the anti-immigrant frenzy that Donald Trump is trying to arouse. Fine. But nowhere – at least nowhere on their web page – was there any mention of the massive pro-immigrant demonstration that took place that day in Barcelona.  (See also this Spanish-language coverage from Spain’s El País.) The crowd – estimated at 300,000 by the organizers, and, and usual, at half that by the police – paraded down the Via Leiatana (Barcelona's 5th Avenue), to Barcelonetta, its port on the Mediterranean, in which where 5,000 migrants have drowned so far, and where more are still drowning.  The march was sponsored by 800 civic organizations and supported by all the main political parties (all of which are at least left of center in Catalonia).

The marchers were dressed in blue to represent, they said, an enormous ocean wave.  Among the signs: "Enough Excuses! We're Welcoming Them Now!" and "Stop the Hypocrisy."

"Enough Excuses! We're Welcoming Them Now!" (photo: ara.cat/CÈLIA ATSET)

There was also, unsurprisingly. a forest of estelladas: the flag of the Catalan independence movement, featuring a white star on blue field above the four red and gold bars of Catalonia.  And indeed, the march was intended to demonstrate to Europe and to the world how a sovereign Catalan Republic would behave. As Ada Colau, the progressive mayor of Barcelona, put it, "We want to set an example to the rest of Europe." Other signs read "For a Republic of Equality" and "For a Republic Free of Xenophobia."

In Catalonia, the word "Republic" has an insurgent force that it lacks in America or France, because Spain is, of course, still a monarchy. The "Republic" referenced on these signs was the projected sovereign Catalonia.

The umbrella organization that organized the march (with the support of Barcelona's municipal government) was called Casa Nostra Casa Vostra: "Our Home is Your Home.'  Representatives of the Syrian refugee community in Barcelona told the media, "Today we really do feel at home."

So if you're seriously contemplating emigration... (Just kidding: we have work to do here at home.)

Some background and context

The European Union seems to be heading for yet another train-wreck, this time over the Catalonian independence movement.  This is an issue that few progressives in this country know anything at all about, but they should learn, because world opinion may shape the outcome of the crisis. Certainly the Catalans themselves think so.

It's a complicated issue, and most people on the Left are quite rightly suspicious of anything that smacks of nationalism. But broadly speaking, the Catalan movement has historically been democratic and inclusive, with a strong commitment to social justice. The current regime in Madrid, in contrast, is both reactionary and intransigent.

Traditionally, the goal of Catalanism has not been outright secession, but the reconfiguration of Spain as a looser confederation of autonomous entities, freed of domination by Madrid, and based on Spain's historical diversity culture and language. (What we call "Spanish" is known as "Castilian" throughout the most of the Spanish world, outside Castile.)

This struggle has been going on (or rather, going on and off) since at least the 16th century. The Catalan national hymn, "Els Segadors" ("The Reapers"), celebrates a peasant uprising against the Spanish monarchy in 1640. On September 11, the Catalans celebrate La Diada (the Catalan National Day), which commemorates the fall of Barcelona in 1714.  Catalonia had backed the losing side of the War of the Spanish Succession. As a result of the defeat, Catalonia was stripped of the local liberties it had enjoyed since the Middle Ages, and the public use of the Catalan language was banned. On La Diada, after the speeches and festivities, the crowds gather at the monument to the martyrs of 1714, offer flowers to memory of its leader, and sing "Els Segadors."

The fall of Barcelona to Franco's forces in 1939 was even more catastrophic than the defeat of 1714. During his forty-year dictatorship, Franco sought to extirpate any sense of Catalan national identity. The Caudillo was still ordering the execution Catalan dissidents from his death bed in 1975.

It is the political heirs of the Franco regime – more or less house-broken, to be sure, but still untrustworthy – who rule from Madrid today.

I have never heard Catalanists express any hostility to Castilians as such, nor indeed to any of the diverse peoples (Basques, Galicians, Andalucians, Portuguese, etc.) with whom they share the Iberian Peninsula. It is only the obstinate refusal of the central State to negotiate that has driven many Catalanists to demand outright independence.

This mood has only become dominant in the last decade, and could probably be assuaged by some real concessions on the part of the Spanish State.  But for now, many Catalans (roughly a half in the last poll) have concluded that there is simply no way to do business with this autocratic and centripetal State, which is forever invoking the sacred and inviolable unity of Spain.

Catalanists – all of whom are perfectly bilingual – refer jokingly to this State, in Castilian, as la Estrella de Muerte ("the Death Star"), an allusion to the space station that rules the galactic Empire in Star Wars. Incidentally, many of the strongest Catalanists I have met come outside Catalonia, and even from beyond Europe. Catalanism is especially strong, for example, among immigrants from Colombia, and now, of course, among Syrian refugees.

Catalanists tend to avoid the word "nationalism" because of its toxic associations. If you're looking for real thing – genuine, intolerant, mythopoeic nationalism – look no further than Madrid and the Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy. You won't find much of it in Barcelona.

Comment